A Divorced Dad Sick of Being Taken for a Perv

Hi Folks! Here’s a note from a free-lance writer in Australia who had to vent. I see why! – L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I would like to share with you my experience of danger lurking in many suburban supermarkets. I’m the type of modern father  you certainly wouldn’t see on television 40 years ago. I go shopping with the kids, I can use a washing machine and fix a loose button without accidentally sewing my pants to the tablecloth. A few days ago, I take my three children (13,9,3) on a regular trip to our local supermarket when my little one starts a tantrum in the candy aisle. I direct my older kids to another aisle while I take Lucy aside to get over her craving for Snickers bars and disappointment that I won’t purchase a hundred. I don’t expect anyone to know this, so to anyone else I’m just a guy in a supermarket holding a crying toddler.
For the next few minutes I’m observed by some other creepy looking guy. That disapproving glare all parents feel when their child is acting up in public.  It feels like a menacing thundercloud and you can almost hear the slow rumble beneath, “MY kid wouldn’t behave like that, for shame…” We eventually make eye contact and creepy guy demands to know “Where’s her mother ?” Awkward, since we’re divorced. I reply “Somewhere else. I’m her father.” Indicating my child.

I appreciate people looking out for my kids’ safety but there’s a difference between a protective community spirit and a belligerent, accusatory busybody. Creepy guy’s attitude gets deadpan. “I just want to be sure, ya know?” Sure of what exactly ? And what evidence should I supply to a complete stranger that I’m innocent of whatever concern he has ? Of course, I’m a potential predator simply because I’m a guy. It must inconceivable for a man to comfort his own child, so the obvious conclusion is I’m attempting to abduct a kid in broad daylight and pick up some half-price noodles and toothpaste at the same time. Slightly less offensive is the notion a woman can be automatically granted a free pass.

IN THE UNDERWEAR AISLE, I BECOME A PERVERT

The life of a potential predator is difficult sometimes. It’s adorable when I take my daughter shopping for a new dress, but as soon as we turn into the underwear aisle I become a pervert. I’m a cool dad to cheer my kids at soccer, but the local swimming pool is another story. I enjoy the condemnation, the stares and  mistaken assumptions. I enjoy the inconvenience and discrimination. I enjoy it because every little petty indignation I overcome gives me that little more dignity so my kids can look up to me a role model for principle.

So if anyone you know ever needs to confront a suspected predator, I recommend some diplomacy. I know its unlikely, but there’s just a small chance that guy isn’t a child molester or the orphan catcher from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” or a serial killer looking for the next ingredient of delicious kid soup. Some of us are good dads just trying to make our way in the world.– Byron

What is that man doing to that poor child?!

Guest Post: Stranger Danger Stupidity

Hi Readers — I think a lot of us have been in “stranger danger” situations like the one described by Renee Jacobson, a teacher for 20 years, below. Her blog is called “Lessons from Teachers and Twits,” and it’s a twit that she learned this particular lesson from. — Lenore

HEY LADY: I AM NOT A CREEP! by Renée Schuls-Jacobson

I was in the epicenter of suburbia, standing in a Target store, holding up two bathing suits, and feeling a little indecisive. A little blond-haired girl who couldn’t have been more than three stood in her bright red cart while her mother, standing an arm’s length away, sifted furiously through a rack of summer shorts.

“I like the pink one with the flowers,” the girl offered, unsolicited. “It’s pretty.”

“I like that one, too . . .” I said. “But I think I’m going to get the black one.”

Suddenly, the little girl’s mother swooped in, a deranged lioness. “We don’t talk to strangers!” she shouted loud enough for not only her daughter to hear, but for everyone in the entire department. Clearly, the message was more for me than for anyone else. Then she pushed the cart (and her little girl) far, far away from (dangerous) me.

Heaven forbid, her daughter and I might have got to talking about shoes.

Okay, I get that there is this weird, American fear about strangers. I don’t seem to have that fear, but I know a lot of people do. That said, 99.99% of the world is composed of strangers, so I have always been of the mindset that one of my many jobs as a mother includes teaching my child about how to respond appropriately to strangers because – let’s face it – sometimes, a person needs to rely on other people.

At age 10, my son doesn’t have a cell phone. He can’t call me or text me for immediate rescue. So if, for example, we happen to get separated at the grocery store and he really can’t find me after searching the aisles for a few minutes, he has learned to go to Customer Service and calmly state that his mother has gotten lost (ha!) and ask for me to be paged. Or, if we are at an outdoor venue, I have taught him to find a mother and ask her – this stranger – to call me.

He knows not to get into a car with someone he doesn’t know. He knows not accept anything from anyone offering him candy or kittens or balloons or free iPods. He knows not to go anywhere with a stranger asking for help. He’s known these things since he was small, and he’s actually had to put some of them into practice. I guess I’d rather have my kid feel he can trust other human beings.

So, really, what did the mother in Target succeed in teaching her daughter by sweeping her away from me so violently? That people are terrifying. That no one can be trusted. That the world is a scary place, and that her daughter is utterly unequipped to function in it. She taught her daughter not to speak. That even casual conversation is dangerous.

In short: That mother didn’t teach her daughter a thing about safety. She taught her daughter about fear. And as far as I’m concerned, she also taught her daughter a big lesson in how to be downright rude. –Renee Jacobson

Beware the Creepy Guy Offering You A Ride, Kids! …Or Not.

Hi Free-Rangers! You’ll like this one. And greetings from Boston where I’ve come to give a talk and also meet with the so-called “Sandwich Moms”! (A lovely group of moms from Sandwich who believe in Free-Ranging. Always nice to meet fellow believers!) — Lenore